Liverpool traveled to the London Stadium on Monday, February 4th, where they were to take on West Ham United in the 25th round of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
It was an important match for the Reds (wearing light gray on this occasion), as all of them for the rest of the campaign are likely to be. Manchester City beat Arsenal on Sunday by 3-1 and closed the gap down to only two points in a title race that seems destined for a photo-finish.
As for the Hammers, their season has picked up recently. Their title-winning manager Manuel Pellegrini has assembled a very good team, and they had a chance to climb from 12th to ninth place by beating Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp has been seriously hampered with defensive issues, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren all unavailable through injury. And as if that wasn’t enough, the middle section of the team also gave him a headache ahead of the game with captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum missing out through a slight muscle and knee injury, respectively.
Not that Pellegrini had it any easier. The former Manchester City boss was without Samir Nasri and Marko Arnautovic, while goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and fullback Aaron Cresswell recovered from their respective issues in time.
The First Half
Liverpool started the game as usual, aiming to be in control of the ball and employ a patient buildup, but West Ham surprised them in the third minute as they hit quickly on a counterattack which ended with Chicharito shooting just wide from just inside the box.
The Reds tried to hurt the hosts with a long pass soon afterwards as Keita sent Salah running in behind, but Fabianski was quick off his line.
One of the tricks Liverpool tried a few times early on was to try and overload Fredericks on West Ham’s defensive right flank, where Firmino often went to add to the presence of Mane and Robertson. The fullback had a few nervy moments but he held out.
Minute 10 was passing when the Hammers tried again, and they caused a few problems inside Liverpool’s box before Cresswell whacked one from range, just missing the far post.
West Ham played with a high line at the back, obviously not happy to stick to just defending. They also fought hard to wrench control from the grasp of their opponents and the game promised excitement throughout. After 15 minutes, the home side stole the ball in the middle and Chicharito had another go, this time from further out, and forced Alisson into a good save.
Just as West Ham seemed to be having more of the ball, Firmino combined nicely with Keita before entering the box and shooting low towards the far corner, but Fabianski did well again. But there was nothing he could do to stop Mane’s shot in the 22nd minute. Lallana played a nice trick and flicked it on down the touchline for Milner on the right flank, Milner found Mane at seven or eight yards, and the Senegalese turned and fired into the bottom corner.
The goal stood, but it’s fair to say the linesman had made a mistake. Milner stood about a yard offside as Lallana employed him, but the official obviously positioned incorrectly himself and wasn’t able to detect that Milner was standing behind the last line of West Ham’s defence when Lallana cunningly poked the ball in his direction.
Four minutes later, Salah worked well to hold the ball and wriggle past an opponent on the right, before involving Keita in the middle who produced a fantastic back-heel for the run of Robertson, but the left-back’s attempt to square it was blocked.
In the 28th minute, the Hammers brilliantly fooled their opponents and pulled unexpectedly level. They had a free-kick around 30 yards out, slightly wide to the left. As the defence expected a shot or a cross, Anderson cleverly sent it rolling on the ground past the wall and inside the box, where Antonio made an unmarked run and put it off the post into the far low corner, beyond the reach of Alisson.
The goal was far from undeserved. The Hammers were playing well; they were by no means the inferior team.
Liverpool played on, however, as if nothing had happened at all. They were still calm and patient and had plenty of flair, clearly exhibited by Firmino as he back-heeled Lallana through soon after the equalizer, but Fabianski was alert once more.
Mane was lucky to escape a booking having mowed down Snodgrass from behind in the 37th minute to stop a counterattack, and Anderson was again clever as he chipped a diagonal over for the run of Chicharito in behind, but the former Manchester United striker scuffed the shot. The Reds hit back quickly through Robertson who broke into the box, but nobody managed to make sufficient contact with his square across the six yards.
Four minutes from the break, West Ham again threatened from a set-piece as Anderson delivered a nicely bent cross behind the Reds’ back line, and Declan Rice ran in behind and hit a free header – wide. The stadium groaned; Klopp was livid.
Soon afterwards a scuffle broke between Fredericks and Mane as the Hammers’ fullback believed he had been fouled with referee Kevin Friend remaining silent, and he vented his frustration on the Liverpool winger from behind. Friend spoke to him sharply, but no card was forthcoming.
The Second Half
As Shirley predicted in her player focus piece before the game, Anderson was giving Liverpool a lot to think about. A minute into the second period he broke down the left, beat Firmino with a nice piece of dribbling and earned a free-kick, which the Reds thankfully defended well.
Then Liverpool turned up the volume. Their attacks became more intricate, the passing more accurate, and they soon worked up a good chance for Salah to shoot from 18 yards, but he hit it straight at Fabianski.
West Ham, however, showed they were still up for a fight and Anderson was brilliant again as he flicked the ball past Matip and tried go past, but the Cameroonian put his arm out, stopped his run and found himself booked.
A series of attacks with potential in both directions followed, but neither team managed to create a proper chance. Some sharpness seemed to be missing as Salah was caught offside, Anderson’s pass for Cresswell was slightly overhit, Firmino’s for Salah was misplaced, Chicharito committed a cynical foul and got into the book on the hour-mark. Salah managed to wriggle past one opponent and shoot past another, but Fabianski thwarted him once more, 60 seconds before the Egyptian broke into the box again and shot far over the bar.
In the 66th minute, Matip ventured forward and lost the ball to Rice. The young midfielder charged forward and employed Antonio, but the Reds, though outnumbered in their own box, managed to clear his cross.
Three minutes later, Klopp made his first move and replaced Lallana with Xherdan Shaqiri. It was not a bad game from the ex Southampton man given his recent fitness issues, but this game required more.
In the 73rd minute, Anderson combined with Snodgrass and then clearly used his hand to set up Noble for a shot, but Friend missed it and the West Ham captain took a shot over the bar from close range. If Liverpool’s goal came after an official had made a mistake, but the Hammers can hardly complain after wasting an even better chance also gifted by a wrong call.
Liverpool started pushing the home team back, but they were still failing to cause any real damage and always looked vulnerable on the counterattack, with Anderson always looking eager to exploit Milner’s runs forward.
With 15 minutes to go, Divock Origi came on for Firmino. Pellegrini responded three minutes later by introducing Andy Carroll and Pedro Obiang for Chicharito and Noble.
As the game entered the final stage, the Reds were pushing forward more resolutely than before, and though the Hammers defended well, they weren’t as efficient in starting counterattacks as before. With Carroll on the pitch, they went long as soon as they could, but Matip and van Dijk were up for it.
But for all their effort, Liverpool were looking bereft of ideas against a stubborn opponent, determined not to lose this game. Even midfield shifts with Shaqiri dropping deep and Fabinho joining Keita further up couldn’t confuse the Hammers. Shaqiri tried to make something happen with a few attempts at incisive passing, but he couldn’t thread it through with enough precision.
Right on the stroke of time, Pellegrini withdrew Anderson, West Ham’s man of the match by a mile, and introduced Arthur Masuaku for the three-minute stoppage time, at the end of which Origi failed to capitalize on another gift from the officials.
Keita lobbed the West Ham defence and found the Belgian slightly offside, but the linesman’s flag stayed down and Origi was allowed to shoot from very close range. However, he somehow managed to hit Fabianski in the middle of the goal and that was it.
Looking at this game in itself, there’s no shame in drawing away to this West Ham side. Pellegrini obviously drilled his men well and they put in a lot of effort, showing impressive team cohesion as well as individual quality, especially in the form of Felipe Anderson.
On the other hand, we’re in the middle of a title race and any game not won is a loss of points Liverpool can hardly afford. The gap behind has now been reduced to just three points, and Manchester City will have a chance to regain the lead on Wednesday when they face Everton at Goodison.
As for Liverpool, it’s Bournemouth at Anfield next on Saturday. Let’s hope they make it count for more than the last two games.
We Walk On.